Trees (Niwaki) in Japanese Gardens

This post features trees the image of which I have taken in my recent trip to the Ritsurin Garden, Japan.DSCF0410

They are ‘sculpting’ trees. Japanese have taken great efforts to sculpt them so that they look like works of art and not just part of nature.DSCF0409

I am not aware of any better description of these trees than those given in the Wikipedia which I am reproducing below in italics:DSCF0411


Niwaki is the Japanese word for “garden trees”. Niwaki is also a descriptive word for highly ‘sculpting trees’.DSCF0412

Most varieties of plants used in Japanese Gardens are called niwaki. These treesΒ help to create the structure of the garden. Japanese gardens are not about using large range of plants, rather it is about creating atmosphere or ambiance.Β The techniqueΒ of niwaki is more about what to do with a tree than the tree itself. While Western gardeners enjoy experimenting with a wide range of different plants, Japanese gardeners experiment through training and shaping a relatively limited set of plants.DSCF0413

Trees play a key role in the gardens and landscapes of Japan as well as being of important spiritual and cultural significance to its people. Fittingly, Japanese gardeners have fine-tuned a distinctive set of pruning techniques meant to coax out the essential characters of niwaki. Niwaki are often cultivated to achieve some very striking effects: trees are made to look older than they really are with broad trunks and gnarled branches; trees are made to imitate wind-swept or lightning-struck trees in the wild; Cryptomeria japonica specimens are often pruned to resemble free-growing trees.DSCF0416

Some designers are using zoke (miscellaneous plants) as well as the niwaki to create a more “natural” mood to the landscape. Most traditional garden designers still rely primarily on the rarefied niwaki palette. The principles of niwaki may be applied to garden trees all over the world and are not restricted to Japanese Gardens.

Please enjoy!

82 thoughts on “Trees (Niwaki) in Japanese Gardens

  1. Hi Michael,
    The trees are very striking in appearance. They also use a lot of stones and boulders that have a lot of character in their gardens.

    • There are some old pines in Huangshan China which have twisted but artistic shapes, the trees here could have been based on them. Those pines are rare but by twisting them , they are now commonly found even in gardens!

  2. The beauty of gardening (no matter the style) is it benefits you many times over. Firstly the time spent planting and caring for the plants, then again the satisfaction of enjoying the results. This garden looks so peaceful.

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